Tinnitus: Diagnosis and Treatment

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Few conditions are seen as commonly by the otologist and are more poorly understood than subjective tinnitus. Tinnitus has been reported in as high as 80% of patients seen in an otolaryngology practice. This symptom is especially marked in patients with a hearing problem and can be so severe that it becomes incapacitating. Careful diagnosis and classification of tinnitus is important for understanding of the problem. Identification of the frequency and intensity of masking, using a tinnitus analyzer, is useful in selecting the form of treatment. Analysis of the history, physical findings and the use of special electrocochleography and brain stem evoked response audiometry help to identify the site of lesion, which may be within the cochlea, cochlear nerve, cochlear nucleus, brain stem, midbrain or auditory cortex. Specific disease entities should be identified and treated. Lesions of the end-organ or cochlear nerve can be treated when necessary by translabyrinthine or middle cranial fossa section of the cochlear nerve. Tinnitus from cervical nerve lesions can be treated by rhizotomy. The use of a hearing aid or introduction of a sound with a tinnitus masker has been found to be 82% effective in suppressing tinnitus. Maskers can be combined with a hearing aid in some cases. The pathogenesis of tinnitus is discussed, but the method of action of tinnitus relief by auditory stimulation is still unclear. A thoughtful and complete examination with our new diagnostic tools and the judicious selection of therapy now makes it possible to give relief to the majority of patients suffering with disturbing tinnitus.

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